Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quilt room organization

Have you been watching the progress of Janice's new quilting room over at Color, Creating & Quilting? Oo la la, look at all those built in shelves! She got me thinking about how I would fill them if it was my home. I'm definitely in the "sort by color" camp of fabric storage, so I would fill the shelves in rainbow order and continue using the same basic system I use now, but on a larger scale.

I love to read about how other people organize their lives, and I really enjoy sites like Unclutterer. I met my friend Jeri through her fun site, too. I've written a little about how my quilt room is set up in the past but it's an evolving process and I have some new readers so I thought I'd share my current setup while fantasizing about working in Janice's new studio. Feel free to skip this post if organizational stuff isn't your cup of tea.

My quilt studio is in the guest stateroom of the boat. It is located up in the bow, or as we like to call it, "the pointy end." The bed fills almost the entire slightly triangular room, with several drawers built in under the bed. There are four small, irregularly shaped built in cubbies/shelves along the walls. There is also a very small attached bathroom. There are four windows, each 8"x18" (yes, that is teeny tiny): two in the bedroom, and one each in the bathroom and shower. The walls are dark cherry wood so the room is very dark. Even with just sheetrock in place, I am totally envious of how light and bright Janice's room is!

1. I fold all my fabric exactly the same way. All FQs are folded the same direction and half yards and greater are folded into rectangles that end up 5" wide x 9" long. This allows them to fit neatly into plastic bins and I can tell at a glance the difference in thickness between 1-, 2-, and 3-yard cuts.

2. Then I put FQs in small plastic bins, and the yardage in larger ones. If I had open shelves, I would leave them out in neat stacks instead, unless the room was dusty (hopefully that won't be a problem for Janice!)

Just looking at the fabric leads me to quilt ideas, so having them all out in the open sounds dreamy to me. I could saunter up to the shelves anytime to pet and coo at my stash! Having them cooped up in bins is a bit stifling for the poor fabric and my creativity. However, on a moving boat, stuff has to be contained. Batten down the hatches and all that jazz.

3. Chunks of fabric less than about 2/3 of a FQ go into ziplock bags by color. They are too small to fold neatly, so I tuck them out of sight in a drawer. It's true: behind every carefully staged, neatly organized room, there is a drawer stuffed full of ungainly junk.

4. Smaller pieces are cut into strips of either 1.5", 2", or 2.5" width, then stored in boxes by color. The boxes are "labeled" with paint chip cards, an idea I got from Julie. Sometimes I'll keep 3.5" or 4" strips if I have a bunch left over from a single fabric, but the skinnier strips seem more useful for scrap quilts. I also have a box for 2.5" and 5" squares. They aren't sorted by color. I have a super scrappy four patch quilt in mind for "some day" so I would just grab lights and darks for that quilt out of this box.

These boxes are not very neat as I paw through them often for projects. Plus, they constantly change size as I add a bunch of scraps after finishing a quilt, or take a bunch out to sew a quilt. So all my yellow and orange scraps fit in a single box right now, but if they grow too much, I could separate them and use two boxes. I'm using cardboard tissue boxes as a zero cost investment, and I keep them on the bathroom counter where they are out of the line of sight. If I had lots of open shelves, I would use Fiona's fantastic QAYG basket tute to stitch up a bunch of fun, color coordinated storage for scraps.

5. Really short strips of those widths go in a box next to my machine, and I use them as leaders/enders. I'll grab two yellow pieces and sew them into a longer yellow piece until the strip is about 8" long, then it goes into the yellow strip scrap box. (See the retractable cord on my small scissors? I got that idea just this week from KaHolly. So handy!)

6. Precuts like layer cakes, charm packs, and jelly rolls have their own storage boxes. One box is big enough for layer cakes to lay flat. I try to keep the precuts in their own plastic baggies or rolled up and tied. I think charm packs and jelly rolls are decorative and would definitely leave them out in the open if I could! All the better for inspiration purposes, too.

7. Because I love novelty fabrics, I have those all sorted by theme. I have separate boxes for cats, dogs, butterflies, tropical fish, birds, scooters, and "adult beverages" (coffee, beer and wine!). I don't mix the scooters and the wine/beer fabrics. Too dangerous a combination.

I also have a drawer full of other themes, each in a ziplock bag: transportation, science/space, fruits/veggies, fishing/hunting/camping, music, boating, Japanese-inspired fabrics, etc. The baggies keep the fabric clean, since the back of this drawer is open to the bilge and tends to collect black dust from the brushes of our bow thruster motor. Yuck.

8. The messiest part of the whole system is the fabric that doesn't fit into these categories! That usually means it isn't folded into the right shape yet, hasn't been cut into my standard sizes yet, or just hasn't been filed in the proper box or baggie. So I have baskets labeled for those tasks and I toss fabric into them without worrying about them being neat and tidy. When the messy baskets start to bug me, or I just need something mindless to do, I take them out and iron, trim, fold, sort and file. There's also the WTF fabric pile ("What's This For?!?"), which contains the odd balls and weirdos that never seem to have a proper place.

It's important for me to give myself permission to let these baskets and the strip boxes be messy in the bathroom, while trying to keep the rest of the room mostly contained in the plastic bins and drawers. That way, the room doesn't look too chaotic if we are giving a tour of the boat, and I know everything is secured
enough for heavy sea conditions. I don't really care if the scraps fall onto the bathroom floor (and they have.)

9. Stuff that would really make a mess or be dangerous if it fell gets stored under the bathroom counter behind latching cabinet doors. This includes basting spray, my extra iron, and the Best Press starch spray. I keep this big bin of tiny trash scraps in front of the latching cabinet. These scraps eventually fill dog beds that get donated to local animal shelters.

10. Rulers are stored in two places. The ones that I use often live on hooks along the wall. The rest are stored in a cloth bag that hangs nearby. Many of the ones in the bag don't have a hole for hanging. If I had a big studio like Janice's, I would hang as many as I could and store the rest out on a counter in one of those slotted holders so they would be visible. All the different ruler shapes are inspiring to me, so I'd like to see them more often. And when I say "inspiring," you all understand that to mean, "Squirrel!!" right?

11. My most commonly used tools and notions are in a basket on a hook right next to my sewing machine. The basket is very stable there and has never budged. I can reach right next to my head for tweezers, seam ripper, Hera marker, quilting gloves, reading glasses, pins, etc.

The rest of my notions like Clover clips, scissors, and extra bobbins live in a compartmentalized bag that hangs right behind me. It swings a bit when the boat moves, but is soft sided so it won't hurt the walls if it bangs into them. The thread box also hangs here because I use it all the time, but it's a bit unstable there. It really needs a more secure hook. Time to ask Project Boy (aka Sean) for ideas.

I really like having everything so close to the machine, but ideally it would all live in small, neatly compartmentalized drawers nearby, rather than hanging from the walls.

12. Batting is stored in the shower, hanging from hooks above the floor.  I generally buy either king or queen size packages of batting. Once I open the package and start cutting, I label each piece of batting with its rough size using blue painter's tape. I admit that sometimes I just pile these smaller cuts on top of each other in a heap, since the shower door is frosted and I don't have to look at the mess! Batting is always in odd sizes, so I would probably always tuck it away in closed-front storage. Ideally, someday, I'll have a studio big enough for a giant roll of batting. Then I will pull batting from the roll like a giant paper towel, and wrap it around me like a cape and run through fields of flowers with it streaming behind me. I shall wear a tiara and sing show tunes then, too. Sigh. Until then, into the shower it goes.

13. I have two sewing machines. The Juki is my main one, and it lives on the table that rests on the edge of the bed, until seas get rough. Then I just put it on the floor next to the wall. The Little Kenmore That Could lives on the floor of the closet in the master stateroom, and I pull it out when I need a zig zag stitch to make Frankenbatting. It's a pain to keep two machines when you live in such a small space, but that was the right compromise when I bought the big, beefy, all metal, straight stitch only Juki. However, if I had a bigger room, I'd leave them both out all the time and use one for piecing and one for quilting. Oh heck, let's dream big, even bigger than the roll of batting fantasy: I'd get a long arm machine if I had Janice's studio.

Thanks for sticking around until the end of the tour. I'd love to hear about how your studio is organized! If you've blogged about it, please leave the link in a comment below and I'll be sure to visit.


  1. Oh boy, that is inspiring! Thanks for all the ideas, Louise! When I ask for opinions from you, I always get tons of great information. I really enjoyed this tour of your studio and your fabric organization methods.

  2. You are so organised, thanks for the tour, Janice is right, it is inspiring. My room is small and I am totally disorganised, even though I bought boxes to sort my fabrics, I still can't find what I'm looking for. Scraps are my bugbear, mine are all in a jumble and now fill two boxes and a tin, and a smaller tin for low volume scraps. I need to reread and have a think.

  3. i love your organisation.... the best thing to me is to know where what you want is however we organised things.... I hate having to look for something I have forgotten the secret place. Most of my fabric is stored in closed drawers - I am untidy but also our brutal sun can fade the edges and spoil the fabric. I do love your run in the fields dream wrapped in batting.... haha - gave me a good giggle to get the day going!

  4. Thanks for the tour. I'm impressed with your organization in a small space, though I guess that's the trick to living aboard happily. I have tried cutting my small scraps into set sizes, but then don't use them, or need something just a tad different than what I precut, so I've given in to the large bin that just swallows up the scraps willy nilly, in all sizes.

  5. You are so very, very organised with your quilting supplies!! Thanks for sharing the hows and whys of everything, it's so interesting to read how other quilters manage their storage, not only of fabrics but the notionst hat you've covered in this post. Oh how I wish I had a shelving setup like the one Janice is the lucky owner of!

  6. Thanks for this post, Louise! I can certainly relate to having a small, dark space to work in. My quilt cave (as I call it, because it's dark) is a tiny space too. I have quite a bit crammed in there, in semi order. I've never thought to blog about it. Not sure if I want anyone to see it. Ha! I think you've been very creative in your use of your space. Like you, I have baskets and bags that I store things in by my machine. Most of my fabric is shelved (yardage) or in a dresser (FQs & such).

  7. I love that you have a place for everything in your tight space. At least it doesn't take you long to find stuff;) When there is a need we can get very creative!

  8. Those are great ideas for a limited storage space.

  9. Necessity is the mother of invention and you have put that to the test splendidly. You've,given me some good ideas. My stuff is organized but creeps toward the empty spaces. We should all go frolicking with rolls of batting and let our cares blow away. Wonderful post, Louise.

  10. I love seeing how people who live on boats and in RVs organize everything, making the most of every bit of space. I am amazed at how much you are able to store and how you categorize it all and keep it safe. No wonder you get so much done! I do need to pay attention to your practice of labeling the batting. I am forever forgetting what each piece is,and I hate having to measure it to find a piece the right size. I just happen to have a post up today that mentions my current storage.. The only problem with it is that when I'm quilting I can't get at the fabric, so I either have to plan ahead or do without. There's a link in the post to my storage closet, too.

  11. I am so amazed that you can accomplish what you do on a boat. My fabric storage is spread out all over the floor in my guest room....shhhh, don't tell anyone! ;)


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